Tell Us More About Yourself (100 Words Max) – JLM Morton

Tell Us More About Yourself (100 Words Max)

Fuckety fuck fuck fuck what do I SAY?
Mother of two, wife, friend – in middle age?
I’m a school runner, taxi driver, cook.
Baggage wrangler, donkey octopus.
I’m a personal shopper, pet feeder
nurse, bog cleaner, psychiatrist, leader
of a small dictator tribe, ragged nailed
lover, discoverer of pockets full of snails.
Fitting three days into two, a part-time worker,
(my boy boss still thinking I’m a shirker).
I’m an all inspiring gin-drunk mum,
time poor, I am rich on unearned income,
walking wounded survivor of lost shoes –
and now so fully knackered that this will have to do.

 

JLM Morton lives in the Cotswolds, an emerging poet snatching as much time as she can to write between caring for a young family and staring up the barrel of a demanding day job.

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Cinema – Daniel Bennett

Cinema

In the low budget indie comedy
of my experience,
I am always on the road
between destinations of heartbreak

or stranded on lonely trains
in the windblown junctions
of elsewhere towns, with their shepherds
and forests and hooch.

My gunmen are bewigged fools,
coming clumsily through the door
of the cold Chinese restaurant
where I eat cheaply after work

or I speak in imagined German
in the back tents of circuses.
The trapeze artist is mournful and abrupt,
the dead clown is my epitaph.

………………………My iconic car chase
is a taxi ride in a foreign city,
with you, one bright afternoon,
waiting in the tailback from the cross city train.

The light and suddenness of it all
is preserved in high glimmer
when I close my eyes, the chrome and dust
of that foreign highway,

and when we slipped across the rails
and you reached for my hand,
you pulled me into a moment of grandeur
hitherto unknown. I always see us here.

 

Daniel Bennett was born in Shropshire and lives and works in London. His poems have been published in numerous places, and his first collection West South North, North South East is due out this summer. He’s also the author of the novel, All The Dogs.

Family Photograph Album -Richard Westcott

Family Photograph Album

Everything then was very small,
black and white, and dim
like that little face-sized screen
looking up at us

as the family gathered round
in our little room
keen to see what we knew
was there and here, both

then and now, together.
Now by myself a long time later
I return, to look up close
at these little windows

each framed in white, panes
into the past, drained
of colour, in which I see
those long gone, and me

a little bundle tightly wrapped
in white and shaded
by her raised hand.
I know for certain

from the careful writing
in special ink – white of course
upon the dark brown page
I am here and there, am named,

held secure by little triangles
across each corner. Seasons pass
as pages turn, the baby grows
and walks while parents age

Grannies come and go.
Dinah the dog who shared the pram
sits quietly through the years
until some photos start to loosen

and captions peter out, to leave
blank pages. Prints and screens
along with cars and houses –
all have grown much bigger

now, I don’t need to go up close
and peer through little windows.
I am enlarged and full
of colour and of understanding.

 

Richard Westcott, for many happy years a GP in north Devon, now has no excuse not to get down to writing. He blogs at richardwestcottspoetry.com and he’s been pleasantly surprised to win a few prizes.  His pamphlet is published by Indigo Dreams

Featured Publication – The Dancing Boy by Michelle Diaz

Our featured publication for August is The Dancing Boy by Michelle Diaz, published by Against the Grain Press.

‘Assured and fresh, tender and brutal in equal measure, this book will knock you sideways – and it will pick you back up again. Held by the framework of one woman’s life, experiences from birth to death and everything in between are reframed in a language loaded with anger, loss, love and an unerring pull towards beauty. It begins in pain and it ends in love – and you will be a richer person for reading it.’ Clare Shaw

‘From the brilliant title poem about her son, “a child without an off button”, to equally startling portraits of family, love, childbirth, relationships, The Dancing Boy is a five-star debut, filled with raw humour, “I stir my latte with a pregnancy test”, wry metaphysics, “What we truly are is always on the back row, throwing popcorn”, and metaphors like shots in the arm, “The sky was full of nouns”. It’s this mix of intense feeling with stunning imagery which gives Michelle Diaz her distinct voice – visceral, quirky, not to be missed.’ Dr Rosie Jackson

dancingboyfrontcover

 

Slipstream

He feels into my unspoken waters, is never hasty,
knows sex – what belongs to me.
No push or surge without the sigh of initiation,
his hands translate that this heat, this body is mine, on loan.

He is an explorer,
gauges yield with quiet clairvoyance,
listens like a fox for a rupture of heartbeat –
something fluid as invitation.

All men are bastards
falls to its knees, is trite fallacy
when one has learnt to read.

Some need heavy oars to navigate a river,
he has hands and eyes, knows the subtlety
of each gasp, the sound of love screaming,
discerns when God’s name is being taken in vain.

 

A Birth Journey in Nine Movements

We are en route to Yorkshire,
I stir my latte with a pregnancy test,
it shows up positive,
all the waiters do the Macarena.
My mother finds a Clear Blue box in the fridge –
it is full of eggs.
We have omelette for tea.
The family has never been so together.

I am carried around by four angels
who guard my apple pip cargo,
pump me full of oxytocin,
airbrush the stretch marks.

My body wages war on vegetables,
organic and tinge of green are off the menu.
I am possessed by the Honey Monster,
only pear drops and Jelly Tots will do.

Three weeks to go and somebody has let the bathwater out –
oligohydramnios – the midwife tells me you’re shrinking.
The sofa becomes a wet grave I bury myself in.

The hospital – I have a bed with a bell,
Mr Doc says emergency caesarean.
We float round the room like balloons in denial.

Seven days go by – you are still not out,
despite Doctor Patel’s insistence,
despite the letter on serious yellow paper,
despite my dangerously high blood pressure.
I sense we are dying. I am probed silence.
You have been leaked information.
You are not coming.

C-section. They find you. I become Mummy.

The room breathes morphine, the women sweat.
I am in Tenko. The nurse has a moustache.
She withholds pain relief, wheels away precious baby.
A cold star rises above the saline drip,
guards the broken nativity.

My old skin lines the corridor,
the curt nurse picks it up.
Strangely, I cry because you are no longer inside.
Your dad closes the curtain in case they think I am depressed.
I’m not. It’s just that I will never again know such intimacy.

 

Magma Skating

I love the pristine crackle of your eleventh year,
still reachable, open-faced, wanting to talk to me
about the things you overhear, the playground whispers.

Mum, what’s magma skating?

My mind fills with lava, eruption, something dangerous.

You do it on your own. It looks like this …

(makes a hand gesture).

I don’t tell you.
Not because I’m prudish or shocked,
but because I like your name for it better,
want to inhabit this wide-eyed world of pre-knowledge,
to be eleven again, clueless,
skate around your lovely head before the curtains start closing
and I can no longer watch the play.

 

The Rebellion of Sleeping in

I want to scrape back clouds,
bring morning to you on a tray,
allow you that extra hour.

I want to scrunch the world up, pocket-sized,
then feed it to you
in pieces you can swallow.

Instead, routine makes a Colonel of me,
I bark instruction:
Face and nails, tie straight, cornflakes,
blazer. Hurry up, it’s late!

Not today.

Today I will let you sleep till ten,
swim in your unseen dreams,
to hell with school, alarms,
the regimented day.

Your face is the softest peach,
The way things have to be
will not consume the fruit of you,
dribble you down its chin without care,
without tasting your sweetness.

 

Michelle Diaz has been writing since the late 90s and began her life as a poetry performer in 1998 at The Poetry Café in Covent Garden. She studied English Language and Literature at Manchester University and always had a love of words and a passion for poetry. In 2009 she had two poems accepted by Live Canon, which were performed onstage in Greenwich. Between 2015 and 2017 she hosted a monthly poetry group in Glastonbury. She also became a Wells Fountain Poet. In 2017, she won 3rd prize in the Mere Literary Festival Poetry Competition. She also began regularly submitting her poetry to a range of magazines with an encouraging amount of success. She has been widely published online and in print and has recently been accepted for several anthologies. She has been part of the open mic at Swindon Poetry Festival, Words and Ears in Bradford on Avon, Trowbridge, Wells Fountain poets. Poetry and a Pint in Bath and many other venues. In 2017 she was the inaugural winner of the Glastonbury Bardic Silver Pen award. She also won the 2018 Christabel Hopesmith NHS Competition judged by Wendy Cope and Lachlan Mackinnon.

The Dancing Boy is available to buy from the Against the Grain Press website.

 

A Wrap of Ice – Emma Lee

A Wrap of Ice

The ice-hockey blades feel unnatural:
short, rounded and blunt, but stiff boots
and the sound of metal on ice reassured.
I was used to elegance on a blade’s edge
rather than a huddled dash grasping a stick.
The cold was welcome, familiar.
A few days before I’d stood on a glacier.
Reminded myself this would be my home
climate if it weren’t for the Gulf Stream.
A group from the southern hemisphere
shivered in thermals, hats, gloves, scarves
and anything they could wrap themselves in,
like the intricate layers of padding put on
in a set order by hockey players to prevent
chafing and inducing clumsiness, unlike
a figure-skater’s minimal costumes warmed
by movement. Their sun would burn me.
They slither back to the bus and shot of spirits.
Before following, I touch the ice for luck.

 

Emma Lee’s publications include “Ghosts in the Desert” (IDP, 2015). “The Significance of a Dress” Arachne (2020). She co-edited “Over Land, Over Sea,” is Poetry Reviews Editor for The Blue Nib, reviews for other magazines and blogs at http://emmalee1.wordpress.com.

Skelwith Force – Kerry Darbishire

Skelwith Force

She’s dreamed all summer of this moment:
…….the guts to carve through earth’s muscle,
veins and bone, keen as a sculptor’s hands
…….drawn by a harvest moon, cloud-swollen,
bleeding sediment, always running with the grain.
…….She’s singing out her heart, hammering away
under a glassy sky. But this is the tricky part:
…….a millenia of rock can be stubborn as a dam
clotted with blood-shot leaves, steadfast as a heron
…….cut from grey – all day edging for trout.
And now hurled deep in stone she knows it will take only hours
…….to break down aeolian deposits, silt and clay,
she has the tools to undermine roots, slice stratum –
…….nothing stops her giddy swell notching pockets and valleys,
polishing the curve of a limb to a broad sheen, working
……..bridges, villages, fields and lanes to a clean body of marsh
…………………………………………………………………with a night’s harsh rain.

 

Kerry Darbishire lives in Cumbria. Her collections include: A Lift of Wings 2014, and Distance Sweet on my Tongue, 2018. A biography – Kay’s Ark, 2016 She has won several competitions including shortlisted in the Bridport Prize 2017, and magazines and anthologies.

Pkhali – Nancy Campbell

Pkhali

for AZ

You’re holding flowers, dark as skeins
of beetroot dug up in the sun,
dark as the earth they came from.
The buds open, shaking out shadows
that could not dye them deeper.
The beetroot you prepared last night
only seemed dark as these flowers
until you skinned and sliced the bulbs,
tumbled them in a bowl. Then
such colour! Even now we’ve eaten
it can’t be hidden – the bowl stained pink,
your hands, flushed by the juice;
your hands, that tremble as they hold
these dark flowers.

 

Nancy Campbell’s books include Disko Bay (Enitharmon, shortlisted for Forward Prize for Best First Collection 2016) and The Library of Ice (Simon&Schuster). She was the UK’s Canal Laureate in 2018, and is currently Literature Fellow at Villa Concordia, Bamberg. www.nancycampbell.co.uk
@nancycampbelle

Mars Girl – Katherine Stansfield

Mars Girl

She woke one morning & said she was going to Mars.
She was twelve & wore kitten pyjamas.

Her dad was over the moon & mars-
halled the press. In an exclusive Skype call with Newsround

she announced, ‘I’m going to be the first to land, because Mars
says I’m Mars Girl so I’m changing my name. Dad,

don’t call me Fiona anymore. Mars
won’t like it.’ She swapped her kitten pyjamas

for some with red planets – the new Mission to Mars
range from M&S: perfect for pre-teen space cadets.

She tweeted @NASA to say she was their go-to girl for Mars
& @NASA replied, ‘Start training now.

You have to play the long game if you’re Mars
Girl’. So she studied hard for her planetary SATs,

with papers on the climate (chilly) & orbit (687 Earth days) of Mars,
signed up for space camps in deserts, practised,

twice a day on a trampoline in the garden, her mars-
upial bouncing moves for zero-gravity, made lists

of food for galactic pioneers, plumping for mars-
hmallows on the outward shuttle flight:

light on the stomach when the trip to Mars
was so long & lurchy through asteroid fields.

NASA kept her in the loop about Mars
missions, and she grew older. She studied astrophysics,

told talk show hosts she wasn’t mad: Mars
was her destiny. Her foot would be the first to touch it.

Her pyjamas were a blue velour spacesuit with Mars
Girl in glittery red thread. Her dad re-mortgaged the house.

‘Mars,’ she whispered at night, ‘I’m coming. Don’t forget me.’ The Mars
race between China & India heated up

& for a while it looked good for Mars
by 2040 if she changed her citizenship, but computer-simulated

landings still ended in fiery disaster. The funding for Mars
research dried up. She got ill then well again

& Mars burned less brightly on the news. No one cared about Mars
any more, it was all black holes. Her dad died

still believing she’d be the first on Mars
but her pyjamas were whatever was in the sale.

She got ill again & her Mars-
shaped heart couldn’t save her.

She didn’t need NASA & their Mars
mega bucks then. She just closed her eyes & there it was.

Not cold or windy like the books had said. She didn’t need a Mars
suit, only her kitten pyjamas.

‘It’s Mars Girl,’ she said. ‘I’m here.’
‘What took you so long?’ said Mars.

 

Katherine grew up in Cornwall and now lives in Cardiff. Her poems have appeared in The North, Magma, Poetry Wales, New Welsh Review, The Interpreter’s House, And Other Poems, and Butcher’s Dog. Seren will publish her second collection in 2020.

The Son – Tim Love

The son

She told him that the pain of dying was
like giving birth – it wouldn’t last forever.
She didn’t want drugs to numb the feeling.

For the funeral he ordered flowers
with long stems because the hospital
could use them after, because tulips,

unlike roses, will not boast about love,
the love that dries them out through
long winters. Their bulbs are poisonous,

not like onions, which only make him cry.
Like all lilies, they need cold shocks
to bring out the best in them.

From then on he wore hope like superman
wears underpants because Kryptonite lurked
in every playground and waiting room.

He kept her jam jar of buttons, each one
a teddy-bear’s lost eye, shaking it nightly,
staring in as if it’s a kaleidoscope.

The sun shone like the moon.
Even the stars believed him now.
He’d give it a year like he promised.

 

Tim Love’s publications are a poetry pamphlet “Moving Parts” (HappenStance) and a story collection “By all means” (Nine Arches Press). He lives in Cambridge, UK. His poetry and prose have appeared in Stand, Rialto, Magma, Unthology, etc. He blogs at http://litrefs.blogspot.com/

The Day I Turned Into a Bear – Joe Williams

The Day I Turned Into a Bear

There were funny looks at the station, and
gasps as I clambered onto the train.
I was pleased to secure a double seat,
and that nobody checked my ticket.
I had a perfectly valid one,
and don’t know of any rules that say
you can’t have bears on a train, just
I don’t like to cause any trouble.

At work we agreed it was probably best
if I didn’t see any customers, so
I spent the day answering emails,
making the tea and filing.
I took a longer than usual lunch,
which gave me time to go to the woods,
find a few berries and plants to eat,
and attend to some personal business.

By the time I got to Sainsbury’s, I
was getting used to being a bear.
With a satisfied growl I flipped a fish
out of the fridge compartment.
The queue dispersed. I said that I didn’t
need a bag, or help with packing,
thanked the cashier for their help, carried
my dinner home in my teeth.

I wasn’t intending to go to the pub,
but there was nothing on television,
nothing that would appeal to bears,
so I dropped in for a pint.
I knew I would get a ribbing, of course.
Everyone there was taking the piss.
I lost count of the number of times
I heard the “long paws” joke.

In the morning I was relieved to find
that I was no longer a bear, but
my porridge was far too cold, and I had
a very sore head.

 

Joe Williams is a writer and performing poet from Leeds. His verse novella, ‘An Otley Run’, published by Half Moon Books, was shortlisted for the Best Novella category in the 2019 Saboteur Awards.
www.joewilliams.co.uk
www.anotleyrun.com
@JoeWilliamsPoet